PHOENIX – Among the eight teams that comprised the All-Star Division at this year’s PG Coach Bob National Invitational tournament, seven of them arrived in the Valley owning zip codes from outside the state of Arizona.
Three high school teams from Oregon were in the division, as were two from Colorado and one each from Arkansas and California. They proved to be worthy representatives of their states, one and all, but when it comes right down to it in the world of sports it’s tough to trump the comforts of home.
The Pinnacle High School Pioneers, playing on their own beautifully prepared home field on the school’s campus in north Phoenix, took advantage of their comfort level and whipped the Monarch High School Coyotes from Louisville, Colo., 9-0, in the Coach Bob All-Star Division championship game played late Thursday afternoon.
“It’s definitely good to do it at home; it’s special,” Pinnacle top prospect Gerard Hernandez said. “We take pride in this field. We take pride in cleaning it up every day and just doing what we have to do every day in order to win.”
The championship victory was the Pioneers’ fourth straight without a loss in All-Star Division play – they had previously beat Tulatin (Ore), 3-0; Rogers (Ark.), 13-10, and Palmer (Colo.), 13-1. Pinnacle is also playing in the Open Division of the Coach Bob Invite and was beaten by Bonneville (Idaho), 10-6, earlier this week; it will play three more Open Division games Friday and Saturday. The Pioneers own an overall record of 10-5 heading into a pair of games on Friday.
“This is the second year we’ve (played in the Coach Bob Invite) and you get to see a lot of good competition from out of state that comes in,” Pinnacle head coach John Casey said. “It gives us a good test and helps us get along to where we want to be. You get to see talent from around the country and they’re all really good (teams) and we just get to build off it.”
The Pioneers’ championship game victory Thursday came thanks to a hard-to-beat combination of timely hitting, better than adequate pitching and excellent defensive play. They scored their nine runs on eight hits, while also adding base runners and scoring opportunities thanks to four walks and two hit batters.
Hernandez, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound senior outfielder who attended last year’s Perfect Game National Showcase and is ranked 159th nationally in his class, provided the power. The left-handed hitter – not yet committed to a college – slugged an opposite field solo home run to left-center in the bottom of the first and added a long sacrifice fly to dead-center in the third that gave the Pioneers a 2-0 lead. He was walked – once intentionally – in his next two trips to the plate.
“I just found my pitch, waited on the pitch to hit and I just hit it,” Hernandez said with a wide smile, before adding how much he’s enjoyed the last couple of days. “It’s definitely been a good experience playing other teams from out of state – teams that we don’t know and they don’t know us. It’s been pretty good competition.”
The Pioneers added a single run in the fourth on a bunt single, a walk and a Monarch throwing error and increased their lead to 5-0 in the fifth thanks to high-hopping two-run single off the bat of senior Tyler Townsley. They added two runs early in the sixth on the strength of pop single, a walk and two hit batters before Ryan Nelson broke it open with a two-run single for a 9-0 lead that held until the end.
Pinnacle senior left-hander Trevor Colceri pitched a complete game, five-hit shutout, striking out two and walking two. It was exactly the type of workmanlike performance the Pioneers needed.
“I’m just confident and I like to take the ball in the big games; I feel like I’ve been doing well,” Colceri said. “I’ve got the guys behind me stepping up and hitting it and it feels good to win big games like this.”
It was the Pioneers’ defense that preserved the shutout and may have ultimately saved the day. The middle infield of sophomore second baseman Blake Flint and standout senior shortstop Kobie Foppe – an Arizona State signee – turned a couple of 4-6-3 double plays, and several Monarch runners were either doubled-off or picked-off bases during the course of the game. In one instance, two Coyotes found themselves standing together on third base.
“It was incredible, the middle-infield especially,” Colceri said. “I’m always happy when (the opponent) is hitting it hard at guys and my defense is making plays behind me. We’re a good defensive team … and as the season goes on we keep getting better and we keep working at it and we’ve been doing real well on defense and pitching.”
Monarch sent senior left-hander Garrit Elzinga out to start the game, and he was better than serviceable. He worked 4 1/3 innings and gave up five hits and three walks while striking out four, and left with one out and the bases loaded in the fifth and the Coyotes trailing 3-0. Two of those Pioneer base runners eventually scored, and four of the five runs Elzinga gave up were earned.
This is Casey’s fourth year as head coach of the relatively new Pioneers’ program – Pinnacle High School opened in the 2000 and the baseball program was established for several years – and has enjoyed a degree of success. The Pioneers play in Arizona big-school Division 1 and also compete in the 12-team Section 1 league with a lot of the other North Valley hot shots like O’Connor, Liberty, Valley Vista and Boulder Creek.
“We’ve had some success in terms of getting into the state tournament each year that we’ve been here,” Casey said. “We’ve gotten a little bit further each time and we’re just trying to build on that.”
Monarch (3-2) and head coach Scott Weiss have been coming down to the Valley for the last couple of years but never played in the Coach Bob National Invitational before this year. The Coyotes found themselves playing the same Arizona schools over and over at their previous stops and wanted to expand their horizons and face teams from other parts of the country.
In their three games in the All-Star Division at the PG Coach Bob Invite played before Thursday’s championship game, they beat West Linn (Ore.), 4-3, and Quartz Hill (Calif.), 11-6, and dropped an extra-inning game to Sheldon (Ore.), 3-1.
“Coming into this we had only played one game, so it’s real good to get some games in and see what we’ve got as players and compete against some talented teams,” Weiss said. “The guys want to play the Oregons; they want to play the Califiornias; they want to play the Texas teams. They want to show that they can play with them.”
Louisville, Colo., sits near Boulder and the Monarchs play in the Colorado Class 5A (big-school) Front Range League with 11 other schools. The Monarch High program enjoyed some success in the early 2000s, according to Weiss, but then fell upon some hard times. The Coyotes have posted a winning record in the two seasons since he took over, however.
“We’ve got a lot of kids that are ready to play,” Weiss said. “The one big secret is the amount of talent we have in Colorado (high schools) – everyone looks at California and Arizona and Texas and Florida but there’s some good baseball being played in Colorado. By the time we get out of here they’re a close-knit team and they’re ready to go back to Colorado and compete in our league. It’s as much of a team-building exercise as it is trying to win a tournament.
“This group is a really close-knit team,” he continued. “They play the game hard, they play as a team, and there are not selfish individuals on our team. They do what they have to do to help the team win baseball games. I’m really proud of this group and I’m looking forward to our season.”
Casey can say the same thing about his Pinnacle Pioneers. They, too, are a tight-knit group that seems to do what they need to do to win baseball games. They’ve now won a PG Coach Bob National Invitational division championship, and they did it by playing as one.
“Without a doubt, it’s their chemistry and how they work together; it’s the best since I’ve been here,” Casey said of the team’s strength. “The talent level is high, but it’s the chemistry that’s helping us win games right now.”